Amino Acids: The Building Blocks of Proteins
All proteins consist of chains of amino acids. An amino acid (Figure 3) is a molecule containing a central carbon atom and three special functional groups: a carboxylic acid group (—COOH), an amino group (—NH2), and variable "side chain" (generically denoted by "R"). (Note: The "—" in "—COOH" and "—NH2" indicates a bond to another atom in the rest of the molecule.) There are 20 different amino acids that are available to be incorporated into proteins. The side chains of the 20 amino acids have different properties, which in turn give different properties to the amino acids. For instance, side chains may be charged (e.g., glutamate) or electrically neutral (e.g., leucine), bulky (e.g., tryptophan) or consisting only of a hydrogen atom (glycine).
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